Go Play By Yourself: Friendships, Shutdowns and Quark

26903935_441118922969808_3940601116744742916_nType “mean-spirited memes” into your search line and nearly a million “results” will appear. I reached a point yesterday when I had just had enough of all of the gotchas, gibes and jabs being thrown across the political spectrum. So I added my comment to a string under a friend’s post of Trump’s misstatement that “…in a number of states the laws allow for a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month.” The remarks were made during an address for the March for Life’s 45th rally. The President clearly meant to say “torn,” not “born,” intending for his statement to decry late-term abortions, as he did elsewhere in his address when he voiced support for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Now granted, I could have chosen a more mean-spirited meme to address, but I’d just had my fill and wanted to engage in a meaningful conversation. I could easily have chosen a “safer space” than the Facebook page of a hard-left leaning friend, but then I would have missed the robust back and forth that followed.

I was a professor for much of my career and I am a believer that we learn best when we come up against that which challenges us; we learn when we have to wrestle with an issue. I have friends across the entire political spectrum and my feed is filled to the brim most days with nasty memes. My friend’s “calling someone out on a misstatement” may have been one of the least offensive of the bunch, but it provided a starting point for asking a series of questions starting with this: what value is there in mean-spirited memes? Now I appreciate satire and satire has certainly been employed, throughout history, to bring change. But when does satire (the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues) cross a line? Do mean-spirited memes move give and take conversations forward or are they shutdowners? Are they just easy grenade-like toss-ats or can they be effective in bringing change? And…can folks–on opposite ends of the spectrum–engage in debate without resorting to name calling (which is how, as you’ll see, the following conversation devolved and then evolved)?

I launched in to the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page by noting that mean-spirited memes do nothing but make those who create them and those who share them look petty and mean. And I asked in relation to the meme at hand, “would you want such memes to be created recounting every misstatement of yours?”

Here’s where the conversation went from there. I’ve done some condensing, but have remained true to the gist.

“Petty and Mean are Donald’s middle names,”one woman opined. “If he would actually think before he speaks, there would be far fewer opportunities for such memes.”

My response: “So incivility should be the response to perceived incivility? I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

“No,”she answered. “Reminding people of what he truly is like is not incivility. He should not be allowed to just gloss over his disorganized and at times nonsensical sentences. His lack of presidential qualities is embarrassing.”

A man chimed in with this: “He flubbed up some words and was made fun of, but the words he meant to speak are even more asinine than his mistaken quote…#1 it is a huge lie, there are NO states that allow abortions that late in a pregnancy unless there is a severe threat of death for the mother giving birth and that is an extremely rare and understandable condition. #2. The problem isn’t that he flubbed some words, the problem is that this idiot just spews out whatever he wants to say whether it is true or not….. So he got teased for making a silly mistake, but the truth is he should be vilified and reviled for trying to spread false and dangerous propaganda about a subject he knows absolutely nothing about…. Please Donna, stop defending this turd, it only makes you look bad.”

My response: “Memes like this and your response do nothing but shut down conversations with those who hold opposing opinions. You’re using the same tactics you say you revile in Trump. I wasn’t defending Trump; I was commenting on the faulty approach of the meme. Could you see MLK posting this? I think I commented on this meme and others today because I’m tired of these mean-spirited slams being posted across the political spectrum. These Molotov cocktails do nothing but inflame. I appreciate satire. I just wish folks would talk to each other instead of ranting at each other.”

My friend then popped in: “Well I’m certainly not MLK, and never pretended to be. Lol I’m with [the previous male responder] on this. Personally, I am a Roe vs Wade supporter and believe it’s no ones [sic] business but a woman and her physician as to how her medical decisions are made.”

The woman, who had initially responded wrote, “Pro-life means supporting health care, early childhood interventions, education, etc. Pro-birth or pro-fetus is something else entirely.”

To which I responded, “You know nothing about me. I’m pro-life in every way that can be understood, and my entire history would bear that out.” My friend, who was a student of mine many years ago, said she knew that to be true.

I then wrote: “I was not defending Trump in posting my comment. Yes, Trump made a horrendous blunder. He often says ridiculous things. Again, I’m just tired of people today talking at each other rather than talking to each other. People–again, from across the political spectrum–throw up memes like this and refuse to listen to one another. The responses that have followed my initial post [ha-ha emojis among them] prove my point. Many of them are hate-filled and derisive and those responding have no idea who I am or what I think. They’ve leapt to conclusions because I didn’t fall in lock step to celebrate this meme. I don’t celebrate ANY mean-spirited memes no matter who posts them.”

A newcomer, who I’d estimate to be a twenty-something, put ha-ha emojis on all my comments and then wrote [I’m sharing her comments unedited]: “we don’t care what you celebrate or don’t ‘My initial posts prove my point…’ No one really cares about your points either This is Facebook and you’re wasting your time I sorta half read through what you said, but after the grammatical errors I stopped You’re the world Police of Facebook, right ? Here to condemn us all for being mean when really you’re probably the biggest bully here Know what I do to a bully? I tell them to fuck off I barely know [my friend who’d shared the meme] and she has nothing to do with how I think Go play by yourself”

Quite coincidentally, my friend noted that “our FB pages are our private playgrounds, where we can vent, share, educate or just laugh at what tickles us.” Private playgrounds, it seems, where people recreate and re-create publicly, and new arrivals are often bullied and kicked to the curb as just so much refuse needing disposal.

Well, I then said: “Thank you to those who engaged respectfully with me on here. I wish we could have had a conversation around my initial comment on whether mean-spirited memes have any value. I wasn’t looking to discuss Trump’s words or pro-life/pro-choice issues and, if you look back at my comments, I hope you’ll see I did my best to respond to each person with respect, honesty and caring concern.”

My friend concluded this portion of the conversation with these words [shared unedited]: “this is a very emotionally charged issue, I do get what you’re saying about memes, but I disagree that this meme falls into that spectrum and if it does so what, this really is FB and that’s all. I have no problem with how you feel about this, that is your right. But it is also Elizabeth’s right to feel the way she does, she has her experiences as you have yours. She is one of the loveliest woman I’ve eveh had the pleasure to know. Donna you knew exactly how my friends would respond, we’ve been thru this before. I lean pretty far left and I’m not a Christian so our friends are and will be very different. I must say you win this one as it appears Lizzie has left my page. Thanks. SMH”

And I said, “As I’m not welcome here, I will bow out as well.” Matthew 10:14 had come to mind, wherein we’re told that, if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, you can leave and shake the dust off your feet. So, I unfriended my friend and shook the dust. But, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” the twenty-something replied, “I haven’t left your page  I barely respond to people like Donna but I felt like putting someone in their place today People are so afraid to look within and search for meaning and the in between I saw a great shirt on a hiker yesterday and it said, ‘Make America Deep Again.’ Think about it”

Yes, indeed, let’s think about it.

After I posted this entry, a friend wrote to tell me that he’d attended a lecture last week by a visiting scholar, Armin Shimerman, from USC, noting that “he [Shimerman] teaches on Shakespeare and that was what his lecture was centered on. But more specifically, he spoke on why we don’t understand Shakespeare today. He posits that we, as a culture, have trouble understanding any literature predating the 1800s. The reason for that: we no longer teach Rhetoric., the basis of all the writings before that time. If we understood the rhetoric behind all the things Shakespeare wrote, we could understand the story better. He pointed to Aristotle’s three pillars of rhetoric: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. The logic behind statements, the believability of the person making the statements, and the passion, or emotion being played on. I walked away from the lecture with my eyes a little glazed over, but I gained much insight. To understand the use of rhetoric, you can become much more persuasive in your life, and to not understand what is being done, you can become much more vulnerable. This comes to my mind as I view many rants and tirades on FB. There is little logos in any meme, but the image used can evoke some sense of pathos. The heavy emphasis is generally on the pathos, the trigger points and the words used. I too wish for more thoughtful discussions and always appreciate your essays. BTW don’t let the fact that Armin was also the actor that played Quark on DS9 detract from his pathos.”

My response: “I recognized the name, Armin Shimerman; I’m a Trekkie after all, though perhaps not on your exalted level! Thank you for sharing his and your wise words. I appreciate your wisdom and your caring concern. I have been reflecting on this whole experience, taking it as a case study in how I might better engage with those who are so quick to take offense and so unwilling to listen. I think my initial post must have been seen as an attack, but that was certainly not my intention. It seems often that, if you don’t fall lockstep into agreeing with whatever camp is onto whatever meme, folks will move to shut you down, refusing to enter into any kind of constructive debate. Not one person engaged with me on the topic of my initial post, the whole point for my posting. They went all over the map, down all kinds of rabbit holes and insulted me. Then they united to force me to shut down. Sound familiar? Perhaps I should have given more thought to how I would be heard and whether it was worth entering into this particular fray.

The shutting down of others, clearly seen in this exchange, provides a picture–in microcosm–of what’s happening across our society.

My friend, in a conversation that reopened a bit later on Facebook, told me she didn’t mean to make me feel unwelcome. But, I reminded her that she had sided with the one who had treated me reprehensibly. I was not made to feel welcome. I was castigated for speaking, and that–I said–should frighten her because the shutting down of free speech, the inability to engage in civil discourse in the public square (or on a friend’s Facebook page) should be opposed with everything we’ve got.

But, then…

The entire tone of the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page shifted when another individual stepped in to tell me that she respected my thoughts and considered them valid. She went on to say: “I respect your statement and your question. I think sometimes what appears to be mean-spirited is an expression of legitimate frustration. I have to say that I don’t like name-calling and have had problems hearing this on both sides. I really can’t appreciate the terms “Libtard” and ” Rethuglicans” and so on…I don’t like the Trump referred to as “Cheeto” nor Hillary as “Killary” and when I reflect on this… – I think it just seems so juvenile. Like kids in the playground spewing names at each other. As an educator, I find myself encouraging little children to be more constructive and they are quite receptive when the ideas are presented in ways that make sense to them. Name-calling gets us nowhere I believe. But, legit expressions of frustration are in a different category and come closer to what you’ve suggested about parody. We can learn from each other when engaging in discussions about recent events such as this blunder. I AM frustrated that a leader could be so inept as to not catch such a gross error – it is curious if nothing else. I stick to my former observations regarding why he did not catch himself. I think the discussion is good and the original post is not without merit.”

My friend then added, “I do agree with what you are saying Donna; there are so many memes I do not share for this very reason. In saying that, there are some I share because of the creativity of the creator, some because they are actually funny, some because they trigger my pathos, and some because I’m simply in a mood. Like I said, my fb is my playground, and much of what I post is not there for any serious debate. Fb, for me, is a tool to keep up with people who are far away or a toy to find unusual things and share with my like-minded peeps. It is open for the public so anyone can comment and speak their mind. If I find something truly offensive I delete it. And no I do not believe people who have completely opposing beliefs can debate without becoming emotionally involved, which is why I do not debate the things I post.”

I said, “I would never suggest we not become emotionally involved…it’s how those emotions are shared. It can be an enormous challenge to debate, to address the other with respect, and to come away as friends, even when we continue to have opposing beliefs.”

My friend added, “I do agree with that. For me it’s just about letting people be who they are. Sometimes that frustrates me, or angers me, but in the end, I get over it as I realize I probably trigger stuff in others. But for me at this age, I’ve experienced enough to know my beliefs will not be swayed by debate. As I know others are shaped by their experiences and I will not try to change their minds. There will always be, and must be opposing forces in all things, the yin yang of it all. So, as we swing on the pendulum from one side to another, I choose to enjoy myself where ever it’s swinging at the moment.”

I should note that, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” she didn’t mind my sharing, on this site, the exchange that had been playing out there. And, odd as it may seem, I’m grateful that I entered into the conversation with words that might have been taken as offensive because I learned I shouldn’t do that in any future go-rounds. And, you know? I must admit that the creator of the born-torn meme was actually quite clever. A clear opening had been provided; it was easy to take direct aim and it would have been hard to miss the target. Mistaking born for torn? At the March for Life?! That was a beaut of a blunder; the President left himself wide open.

In the end, my re-friended friend and I came to a greater understanding and greater appreciation of each other, and I actually gained a new Facebook friend: the woman who entered in at the tail end, the one who acknowledged I had some good points, the one who shared her own views respectfully and thoughtfully.

Now, I have one last bit to share…

Coincidental to my entering into this exchange on Facebook, was my viewing of a CBS Sunday Morning segment that centered on the shutting down of free speech on college campuses. The professor in me perked up and zeroed in. I hope you’ll take the time to visit the link here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-war-of-words-on-college-campuses/

In the program, an altercation at Middlebury College in March, 2016 was recalled that was sparked by the appearance of Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute. He’d been invited to the Vermont college to discuss his Coming Apart, a book that explores the growing divide between rich and poor white Americans. When he got up to speak, however, chanting and yelling students shouted him down.

The individual who had invited the author expected Murray would be controversial because of another book he had written, The Bell Curve. In that volume, Murray had suggested that race may play a part in determining intelligence, asserting that blacks do less well than whites on IQ tests. CBS reporter Rita Braver interviewed one student who was looking forward to pressing him on these ideas, and Allison Stanger, a respected political science professor who had been selected to moderate the event because of her liberal credentials, was also eager to debate. When she and Murray were drowned out and shut down by the protests, Stanger lamented the missed educational opportunity.

Braver noted that Murray’s presence at Middlebury eventually resulted in violence. “When Professor Stanger was escorting Murray out, they were attacked by a mob that included outside activists, and she was left with a concussion and whiplash.”

Stanger was clearly saddened by all of this. She had reviewed The Bell Curve and had prepared tough questions that she never got to ask in front of an audience that was listening. She told Braver: “It was this real group-think mob mentality where people weren’t reading and thinking for themselves, but rather relying on other people to tell them what to think.”

Murray and Stanger were essentially told–or, rather, forced–to “go play by themselves,” and this brought me back to the suggestion that Facebook pages can be seen by some as private playgrounds where new arrivals can be bullied and kicked to the curb when they don’t fall into lockstep line. Shutting down. Shutting down. But…it doesn’t have to be this way. We can shake the dust, put our shoes back on, and start in again with respect for one another and a renewed determination to listen and learn.

 

Baby on Board: Advertising on Craigslist for Newborns and Adoptive Parents

I came across this advertisement today on Craigslist. I share it unedited:

“I know my posting must seen strange but when you run out of resources you do things you normally wouldn’t do. I am 33 and I am married m husband is 42, we have 5 children together and he has two from a previous marriage. We can not afford to take on the responsibility of another baby to raise, my husband lost his job and right now the only money we have coming in is what is left over after my school grants pay for my online schooling and that’s not much, we get a little bit of food stamps but not nearly enough for a family of 7, I am on medicaid so I do see the Doctor for the baby, I am due April 20th so not very much longer. We really need some help please, we are not asking much at all I just want a good family yo take our baby girl and raise her with love and protection and I want letters and pictures please. I am really praying that someone will come forward and help us not just with the baby but with our other kids they are 19 months (girl) 3 (girl) 4 1/2 (girl) 6 (girl) and 12 (boy), we really need clothing for them and I have no maternity clothing, I own two pair of sweat pants and a few tee shirts I don’t even have a winter jacket that fits, we have a car but can’t afford gas to get to all my Dr appts and I have to go every 2 weeks, we really need some food please can anyone help us, I had my tubes tied and still got pregnant (I swear, I will show yo the paperwork). You can be there when the baby is born, you can name her, you can be the first to hold her and I won’t stand in your way, please just help us I can’t have another kid I have enough that I can’t hardly take care of, I love my kids but we are poor people and just can’t feed another mouth. We will do whatever you want, I promise. Please no mean emails, I just want to find a family who will take the baby and help us until the bay is born, I don’t think I’m asking to much. You can text me [a name and number are provided] and TEXT only until I know your not being mean or nasty to us, then we can talk, you can email me to I am on computer a lot for school and I check my email a lot to.”

Now I can’t speak to whether this ad is a hoax, an adoption scam, or a genuine plea for help from a desperate woman. The ad contains the phone number and city of the individual purported to be pregnant along with two photographs of an attractive dark-haired Caucasian woman.

I telephoned the police department in the city noted in the Craigslist posting as the woman’s home base and was told by the answering officer that it is not illegal in the state in which she resides for a birth mother to advertise for adoptive parents. “It is not a criminal matter,” he said, “unless she is trying to sell the child.” I was told I could bring the ad to the attention of Social Services on Monday morning. It might also be a matter for a sheriff’s investigation.

What I came to learn through my subsequent research is just how key to the U.S. adoption matchmaking process Craigslist and other online boards are becoming. Prospective parents are also turning to YouTube to promote their virtues to women who are seeking homes for their soon-to-be-born.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that some 677,000 children a year are placed through private domestic adoptions. But, as of now, according to an article on Shine from Yahoo! by Piper Weiss, “it’s unknown how many of those matches come from social networking and online community boards.”

Weiss notes that: “In a small 2012 study conducted by the organization Families for Private Adoption, 40 percent of private adoptions were successfully matched online, the majority through paid adoption websites like ParentProfiles.com – an online database of adoptive parents. Only 5.7 percent of those surveyed were matched through other unspecified social networking sites. But in an age where at least 2.5 million of American woman are trying to adopt (according to the National Survey for Family Growth) and international agencies are imposing stricter limitations on the process, hopeful parents are relying on their own homegrown social media skills to have a kid . . . Websites, like ParentProfiles.com, Adoptomism.com and Adoptimist.com, are playing online matchmaker for parents and birth moms. Agencies are encouraging parents to launch viral campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. And adoption consultants are coaching clients on optimizing their websites on search engines. Now there are even adoption marketing companies providing parents full-service web consulting packages for a price.”

But according to the handful of hopeful parents Shine interviewed, it is Craigslist’s free community board for missed connections and apartment rentals that’s directing the most traffic to their personal adoption websites.

And, it is on the community board of Craigslist that I found the ad from the woman trying to place her seventh child, her unwanted seventh child. With all of the worries we have today with predators, human trafficking, scams and hoaxes I find it quite disconcerting that we would we be searching on line for newborns and adoptive parents on the same sites where folks shop for snowblowers, prom gowns, toasters and TVs.

Traveling this route seems fraught with danger so I wasn’t surprised to note that the Craigslist page carrying the birth mother’s ad was topped by advice sections on “personal safety” and “avoiding scams.” Here folks are warned that: “The overwhelming majority of Craigslist users are trustworthy and well-intentioned. With billions of human interactions facilitated through Craigslist, the incidence of violent crime has been extremely low. Nevertheless, it’s very important to take the same common sense precautions online as you would offline.”

And we all know that scammers and hoaxers are out there: In 2009, a woman in Abington, Massachusetts received a message one day from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her child was being offered for sale on Craigslist. The horrified mother emailed the address she found in the online posting and did, indeed, find a picture of her own son in the ad. It was claimed in the blurb that the child was Canadian born and living in an orphanage in Cameroon. Three hundred dollars was all that was required to start the adoption process.

In an ABC News report at the time, the child’s mother, Jenni Brennan said anger was just one in a “range of emotions” about her son Jake’s picture being used by scammers: “Brennan, 30, said the family had been using a WordPress blog for nearly two years to update the family on her children’s milestones, including stories and pictures. . . But then Brennan said she got an e-mail from a woman she had never met, warning her that some of the pictures of Jake kept on the family’s blog were being used by a scammer who was using Craigslist to lure potential adopters. The woman’s friend had fallen for an adoption scam from a St. Theresa Conception Parish that was asking for $300 to start the adoption process the year before. And when she saw the same ad pop up again she posed as an interested adopter to see what the scammer would send back. What she got, Brennan said, was a picture of Jake Brennan, a chubby blond-haired little boy. Because the family’s blog address popped up when users rolled their mouse over Jake’s picture, the woman knew where to find the Brennans.”

Brennan and her husband filed complaints with the FBI and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, both of which said they would look into it. Brennan said she also contacted Yahoo, which shut down the e-mail addresses used in the Craigslist ad by the scammer, the adoption “lawyer” and the supposed orphanage in Cameroon. Her hometown Abington Police Department assured Brennan they’d do what they could, but that they may never know who was behind it.

This fraudulent ad is now referred to as the “Cameroon Scam” and prospective adopters looking online for children are told to watch out for red flags in other ads that could be signaling trouble ahead. How very easy it is for a photograph to be pirated from a parent’s page on Facebook or on a blog platform for use by a scammer!

Last week, police in Manitowoc, Wisconsin were investigating a Craigslist ad offering a four-year-old boy for $1,000. Authorities had taken the ad seriously but, by the time they were alerted to it, the ad had been removed from Craigslist. The caller who had notified the police about the posting was able to help detectives contact the suspect. The poster told the detectives that he’d sold the four-year-old for $1,200 but he promised he would be able to acquire another child. Police traced the computer sending the message to them back to a 17-year-old student who had posted the ad while he was in class. Despite the boy’s apology, the police issued a $681 ordinance citation for disorderly conduct. The boy was fortunate; the police could have filed a criminal charge.

After initially posting this piece on February 23, I found – in the following day’s SFGate, under The Mommy Files, another article entitled, “Baby wanted: Couples adopting through Craigslist.” The writer of this concluded: “Yes, adopting through Craigslist seems risky since it’s a place that’s increasingly becoming known for cons and frauds, and adopting a child is a far more delicate and important transaction than, say, buying a used dishwasher. It’s difficult to fathom that you’d look for used housewares (not to mention one-night stands) and cuddly, living, breathing babies in the same place. But the everyday nature of the site might be what makes it a great place for parents looking to adopt. Craigslist is where people go to buy, sell, trade, find, give away. Things happen on Craigslist, and when you’re a weary couple who has been trying to start a family with little success for years this is actually what you want. Can transactions go bad? Yes. But anyone who has used Craigslist knows that more often they go right.”

So, regardless of the danger, more websites like My Adoption Adviser, are singing the praises of advertising on Craigslist and other sites. And couples, eager to find a child to adopt, have to navigate not only the web but the sweep of adoption advertising laws that are literally and figuratively, all over the map in the U.S.

As of now, according to Adopting Family Resources.com:

“Connecticut specifically allows advertising by birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. An additional eight states allow advertisement by agencies and other entities such as attorneys (in Florida), crisis pregnancy centers (Louisiana), birth parents (Nebraska), facilitators (North Carolina), and prospective adoptive parents who have favorable pre-placement assessments (North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin). Georgia allows the use of public advertising by agencies only; individuals such as birth parents and prospective adoptive parents may exchange information by private means only, such as letters or phone calls.

“Two States (Alabama and Kentucky) prohibit any use of advertising by any person or entity. Another 12 States prohibit advertising by anyone other than the State department or a licensed agency. Utah specifically prohibits advertising by attorneys, physicians, or other persons. In Virginia, no person or agency may advertise to perform any adoption-related activity that is prohibited by State law, and a physician, attorney, or clergyman may not advertise that he or she is available to make recommendations for adoptive placement, as that is also an activity that is prohibited by law.”

http://www.adoptingfamilyresources.com/adopting/adopting_advertising.htm

So where are? We have parents with too many children offering up their extras on Craigslist. We have childless couples promoting their parenting potential on YouTube hoping to attract a sympathetic birth mother who will gift them with a newborn. And we have more than a million babies aborted in the U.S. every year — 55 million lost since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down 40 years ago. There must be a better way.

Your thoughts?

Featured image: http://graphicsfairy.blogspot.com